Subject Heading change at the University of North Texas Libraries

By: Kevin Yanowski, Department Head of Cataloging & Metadata Services, UNT Libraries (Kevin.Yanowski@unt.edu); Stacey Wolf, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian, UNT Libraries (Stacey.Wolf@unt.edu); and Kelly Evans, Cataloging and Metadata Associate, UNT Libraries (Kelly.Evans@unt.edu)

The University of North Texas (UNT) Libraries recently decided that we no longer want the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) term “illegal aliens” in our catalog. In this post, we will showcase our success in deciding on and implementing this change in the hopes that you can use some or all of it in your library.

The process began with drafting a proposal to our Cataloging Work Group (the group that decides on cataloging policy at the UNT Libraries). This proposal included a history of the term’s use, revision suggestions that the Library of Congress (LC) has received, and links to documents that detail how other libraries have handled this term. Additionally, since this proposal was coming from catalogers, we included some simple suggestions on how to change or update the term.

Image of Willis Library. Close up of the stacks

The next step in the process was to discuss the change at a Cataloging Work Group meeting. While no one was against the change, it was important to have this discussion because there were practical issues to work through. Ultimately, it was decided that this long-overdue change could be done with relative ease, and it passed unanimously within the workgroup.

Once the change was approved, we needed to develop an implementation plan. As it happened, we are about to embark on an automated authority control and RDA enhancement project with a vendor, so our Cataloging Coordinator, Adam Baron, wrote the changes to our processing profile. However, this process could also be replicated manually by any cataloger. 

Here are what the steps look like:

  1. Copy 650 fields with “Illegal alien” or “illegal alien” to field 692 (a locally defined field suppressed to public view).
  2. In 650 fields with “Illegal alien” or “illegal alien”:
    1. Change second indicator to 7
    2. Delete subfields $2 and $0
    3. Add “$2local” to the end of field
    4. Change “Illegal alien” to “Undocumented immigrant”.
    5. Change “illegal alien” to “undocumented immigrant”.
  3. Remove duplicate 650 fields.

Additionally, the UNT Libraries recently switched to a faceted catalog that does not use authority records in the same way as our traditional catalog. We worried that users might search for “illegal alien” and, without an authority record to redirect the user to “undocumented immigrant,” they would not get any results. Our use of a local 692 field will allow for users to find the results they want while not seeing the term “illegal alien” in the subjects. Staff can still see the term in the back end, but public users will not encounter the term in the displayed subject headings.

We hope this is just the first of many equity, diversity, or inclusion (EDI) projects we undertake. Additionally, we hope that you can find similar success in your library, not only with changing this subject heading but also with any EDI project you have in mind. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.